Blue-Violet Iris Interior

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Pond Ecology

I've been increasingly interested in using my macro lens to photograph insects and other invertebrates. Bees are one of my favorite subjects and I had a delightful time photographing snails during my last stint of looking after Sweetheart. There aren't a great many insects to be found in the vicinity of my house, which is surrounded mostly by conifers in a suburban sort of way, so I'm always on the lookout for new environments that might offer up a different range of critters for my camera. While I was taking care of Mr. Gorgeous last week, I found one.

The lower pond is utilized by a great many birds, including this mallard couple.

Mr. Gorgeous' house is located on a long, steep strip of land. To facilitate runoff, an artificial stream bed has been created on the property, along with two pools. The stream bed is dry most of the time, but the pools are permanent. I'd spent some time photographing ducks in the lower pool recently, but hadn't explored the upper one because it is surrounded by tall grass. However, on the fateful day in question, I approached the lower pool to see what there was to see and startled away two rufous-sided towhees who were bathing in the shallows. I'd like nothing better than to photograph a rufous-sided towhee in the midst of a bath, so I thought I'd approach the upper pool with more stealth in case there were any birds bathing there. I didn't find any birds. I did, however, find a great deal of green slime. And in and among that slime, a fantastic collection of freshwater aquatic invertebrate life.

This photo of the pool's algae-chocked surface looks like it was painted by Monet--that is, if Monet had painted pond scum!

Air bubbles trapped by the slime.

A riot of green.

 Scores of water striders skimmed across the pool's surface in search of prey, their feet barely dimpling the water.

A water strider.

Two different kinds of water striders, one brown, one a metallic blue.

A tiny blue fly landed on the surface of the algae to feed.

(If anyone could ID this for me, that would be awesome!)

Below the surface, danger was everywhere. Different types of water tigers, the voracious predatory larvae of diving beetles, patrolled the thickets of algae.

Diving beetle larva.

Large water tigers can even prey on small fish and tadpoles; this one, perhaps a 1/2 inch in length, would have to be content with smaller prey.

A particularly scary looking diving beetle larva!

The open stretches of the pond teemed with backswimmers in search of prey.

These amazing, agile insects hunt on their backs just below the surface, using their long hind legs like oars.


But what really intrigued me was the ability of my camera to bring the mosquito larvae bobbing just below the surface of the water into view. During my first excursion to the pond, I tried taking some photos of them from above, as I did with the other insects. I decided what I really needed was a straight-sided, narrow container that I could dip into the pool to capture the critters that would allow me to photograph them from the side. Imagine my delight when I found this:

I was so excited to happen upon the perfect container that I hustled up to the pond while still in my pajamas. It turned out to be slightly difficult to get any larvae into the container (especially since I didn't want to fall in or have my camera fall in) and then when I did get some in the container, they displayed a frustrating reluctance to rise to the surface, but eventually they did, and I was extremely pleased that my macro lens was able to bring them into focus. It's hard to comprehend the scale when looking at these images, but to the naked eye, the largest were about the size of this "l" and the smallest were virtually invisible.

You can see how the larvae compare in size to the thickness of the container's walls.

At the surface at last! That thick, blurry, horizontal line is the surface of the water. 

All four larval stages of the mosquito are nicely represented here!

Biology is cool.

While mosquito larvae are not exactly pretty, I love any unexpected look at the world that my macro lens can afford. I certainly don't like hanging out with bugs in general and adult mosquitoes in particular, but photographing them is a different matter! I never had regular access to a pond when I was growing up, so I've never had the opportunity to peer into the depths and marvel at all the strange creatures that lurk beneath the surface, especially in this algae-rich environment. If there had been fish or frogs or photogenic dragonflies to photograph, I most certainly would have pointed my camera at them, too! (I would dearly love to get some great frog photos.) I was always very taken with the idea of ecosystems when studying biology and had I gone in a scientific direction rather than an artistic one with my life, ecology would have been my chosen field. These photographs showcase a nice array of the flora and fauna of a stagnant, freshwater pond ecosystem and I'm so pleased that my camera has the ability to record the minute inhabitants of this aquatic world.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Quartet of Canines

There has been extended silence on my part because I've been dividing my time between more illness than I'd like and lots and lots of dogs!

Sweetheart keeping watch while I photograph snails.

At the beginning of April, I had a nine day gig with the ever-engaging Sweetheart the German Shepherd. The weather was abysmal much of the time, with record-setting quantities of rain falling on at least one of the days, but nothing could dampen Sweetheart's spirits. She was ready to come over with a big smile on her face anytime I looked in her direction, bringing me toys, licking any part of me she could reach, and sighing blissfully when I rubbed her ears. Aside from all the rain and the resulting blahs, we had a good, uneventful time together. (Well, according to Sweetheart it was far from uneventful because it was SO EXCITING every time we went up or down the stairs, in or out of the house, or if I got on or off the couch.)

Sweetheart's house has two alarm systems!

Game, anyone?

Poor Sweetheart couldn't keep her eyes open after we took advantage of some dry weather to go for a walk. Why the silly girl wouldn't just put her head down and go to sleep, I don't know...

Snoozing at last.

Oops, you blinked!

Much of the rest of April was spent coping with another acute attack of gastroparesis, taking advantage of some sunshine, and not being able to take advantage of said sunshine because of migraines. Then, at the beginning of May, I got to spend part of the day with the ever-attractive Cutie the Great Pyrenees!

Looking noble.

Looking handsome. 

Looking elegant.

Looking like the big silly girl that she is!

The very next day after I took care of Cutie, I was off to Mr. Gorgeous' house. He always looks fantastic, hence his nickname, but Mr. Gorgeous seemed even more resplendent than usual. The only thing more gorgeous was the weather while I was at the collie's house! It was spectacularly sunny and the highs got all the way up into the mid- and upper-80's!

A breeze lifts Mr. Gorgeous' backlit ruff as he comes up the hill to see what I am doing. (Photographing ducks in the pond, in case you were also wondering.)

Mr. Gorgeous likes to be color-coordinated with his surroundings.

The dude always looks handsome, but he seemed particularly so this visit!

Talk about classic, iconic collie good looks!

I made him pose for this portrait with me because he'll probably have had those flowing locks shorn off for summer by the next time I see him.

Two days after I finished up with Mr. Gorgeous, I set off to spend a long weekend with Lady! I haven't looked after Lady since Mother's Day weekend last year, so she gets extra pictures. She is now all of fourteen years old and has slowed down quite a bit. Arthritis has reduced her walk to a sort of waddle and she showed minimal interest in chasing a ball, but she's still very sweet and has a funny grunt she makes when she wants my attention and enjoys her walks, though they are shorter and slower than they used to be.

"Welcome to my home!"

Lady was more interested in standing with her ball...

...or rolling on it than running after it!

The weather continued to be hot, so Lady and I spent a fair amount of time relaxing in the shade in the front yard.

Every old dog needs a good nap now and then.

Age has not lessened the sweetness of Lady's soul!

There will be more canines and fewer blogposts yet to come--I'm off to hang out with Mr. Gorgeous again at the end of this week and am already scheduled to see Lady again in early June! Sweetheart, I am saddened to report, is moving out of state this summer, but I do hope to see her again before she goes. In the meantime, my life is continues to be all about dogs, dogs, and more dogs!

And, for a bonus, check out this video I made on how to give a dog a pill using a marshmallow!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Watch TV

I didn't get enough sleep the other night. If I sleep through the night (which seldom happens), I can function on nine hours of sleep. But that's my absolute minimum. If I'm awake in the night, I need more than that. This is why I typically am in bed at least twelve hours out of the day. If I don't get enough sleep, migraines are an absolute guarantee.

Because I had only managed to scrape together seven hours of interrupted sleep yesterday, I found myself in damage control mode, trying to make my day go as gently as possible to void jostling my already stressed brain. The dog and I spent a pleasant three hours or so dozing and snuggling on the couch, but then she opted to abandon me in favor of basking in the sunshine streaming into the front room. I thought to join her, but found that even when not directly in the sunlight, my eyes were too light-sensitive, even without an active headache, to tolerate spending time there. I read a little bit, but found it a hard slog because my mind had lost its agility and acuity. I loathed to shut myself in my darkened bedroom where I'd spent far more time than I would like in the last couple of weeks. The time needed to be passed somehow, so I decided that I should watch TV shows on my computer for the rest of the day.

"I should watch TV."

I've become accustomed to my small and homebound way of living and strive to be unapologetic about the choices I make to cope with the disabling effects of my headaches, but every once and a while, I am struck by the absurdity of it. My life has become an inversion, in many ways, of a normal life. The refrain is usually, "I shouldn't be watching TV," and it's all about guilt. "I shouldn't be watching TV because I have all this work that needs to be done." "I shouldn't be watching TV when there are so many other constructive ways of spending my time." In my world, though, I shouldn't write, I shouldn't work on photo projects, I shouldn't read, I shouldn't cook or clean, I shouldn't exercise, I shouldn't walk the dog, I shouldn't socialize, I shouldn't leave the house, I shouldn't even get dressed in something other than pajamas. What I should do, if I know what's good for me, is to sit down and spend the next five hours watching "Law & Order."

Talk about weird.

And rather galling, too, considering that I grew up without a television and was always rather proud of the fact. I had plenty of ways of entertaining or relaxing myself and never felt the need to have one, not when there were books to be read! I'm very glad that I still don't have a television (TV commercials are hell on migraines), but I am quite grateful that I am able to stream TV shows on my computer. The twelve hours of the day must be filled somehow and when reading--once an effortless activity for me--is too much of a strain and I need to keep my physical activity to a minimum, television really comes in handy.

(For the record, I've been on a "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" kick lately because it isn't visually dramatic, the music is subtle, it isn't too heavy on the gore, and in the course of 43 minutes, unlike in my life, a resolution is reached with a criminal almost always brought to justice. Also, there are eleven seasons available to stream on Netflix, so even if I watch several a day, it will take some time before I exhaust the supply of episodes.)

In the world out there, the bright, noisy, busy, hectic, active world beyond my window that I cannot be a part of, people are trying to turn off the TV, trying to be more productive, trying to use their time constructively, trying to get more done, trying to be better, trying to be perfect. Me, I'm trying, not always with great success, not to do anything at all. And now, having spent my day's allotment of brain power in writing this, I'm off to watch TV.

The video accompanying this song is migraine-inducing, but am sharing nonetheless because I'm often reminded of Rasputina's "Watch TV" (especially the line "It makes me better") when I must resort to television to pass my days.

To follow what I do when not watching TV, visit my Facebook page!